Lionsgate // 2008 // 100 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // January 6th, 2009
In a completely original spin on the action film genre, "The hitman has become the target."
Nicolas Cage and whatever helpless forest animal is stapled to his skull star in this limp action, Thai-centric actioner.
Cage (Ghost Rider) is Joe the hitman, a top-shelf assassin who's prepping for his grand exit from the world of contract killing. He finds his last assignment -- a quartet of hits -- waiting for him in Bangkok. He is committed to taking care of business and sauntering off into the sunset, following his unbreakable rules of staying invisible and not getting involved in outside relationships and eliminating all his loose ends.
Which he promptly ignores when he gets a hard-on for a deaf pharmacist and cultivates an inexplicable mentorship role with his jackass errand boy. And yes, eventually, the tables do get turned on our hitman as he lands himself in the crosshairs and violence goes down.
Seriously, what is going in with Nic Cage's coiffures these days? It's a consistent challenge watching Bangkok Dangerous without getting distracted by the mop of greasy synthetic fibers desperately clawing to the leading man's cranium. No wonder Joe lives a solitary life fueled by murderous aggression.
Unfortunately, shabby hairstyles are the least of Bangkok's problems. For starters, this Joe character is a walking series of narrative disconnects. He tells us in the beginning -- quite forcefully actually -- that in order to succeed as a professional killer you have to rigidly abide by the rules. In the opening few minutes we're given the impression Joe swears by this code and when he decides to get out of the game you would think holding himself to the rules would be at the top of his list.
Nope. In one of the most brazenly ludicrous character turnarounds I've seen in an action movie, Joe jettisons pretty much every regulation he's lived his deadly and uncertain life by. Cease from needless relationships? Discarded once he lays his eyes on the mute pill bottle filler. Leave no trace? Ha! How about taking on an unknown, reckless street urchin as his Daniel-san? While these decisions are nonsensical and torpedo Joe's legitimacy as a relatable character, it's the fruits of these choices that go on to poison the movie as a whole. Now thanks to his newly-found infatuation, I'm forced to suffer through a selection of corny date sequences and his mentor/mentee relationship vomits forth training sequences and Nicolas Cage standing around in sweat pants giving marksmanship pointers.
The worst of it is Joe's newfound moral compass. When tasked with carrying out the last hit of his assignment, he encounters a crisis of conscience, thus making him the hunted. The reformed hitman shtick is all well and good and represents heavily traversed storytelling territory in the action genre, but its execution here is so forced and shallow it dooms the movie. When he's about to put a bullet in a politician, his final mark, Joe flashes back to something his student said about him: "He fights bad guys and helps the poor." That's how Joe becomes a Boy Scout and a crimefighter.
Lastly, a note about the action scenes: they're few and far between and generally tame in their "actioness." There's a linear, uneventful boat chase, which culminates in a goofy moment when Joe slices a guy's hand off by swinging an outboard motor at him (!) and the prolonged, dual-wielded handgun shootout at the end; both are tame and don't come close to compensating for the weakness of the story.
Continuing the pile-on, the HD treatment is wanting. Picture quality (1.78:1) is disappointing, featuring flat colors, soft detailing and a surprising amount of grain. The Pang Brothers have kept much of the action out of daylight, forcing much of the film to be drowned in dull grays and black and blues. While the dark levels are solid, the video clarity is what underachieves; the difference between this and an upconverted standard DVD is not dramatic. Things pick up when the Pangs point their lenses towards brighter milieus. The river chase scene stands out in particular, as does the botched assassination, both of which begin to measure up to the high-def standard. Still, this video presentation would not rank in the first tier (or second or third) of my preferred Blu-rays. Sound, though, is strong. The 7.1 DTS HD Master track is robust and fills the room. The surrounds are mapped well, giving the action scenes juice. The aggressive score uses the subwoofer especially well.
Extras are scant and forgettable: a nice, but short featurette about Hong Kong cinema, a brief making-of documentary and a drastically different alternate ending, which I preferred. BD Live capabilities include the MoLog custom blog feature. A digital copy is included.
A dearth of meaningful action joins a nonsense story to form a movie you shouldn't be at all surprised that you missed during its theatrical run. The Blu-ray presentation is mediocre.
Guilty. Bangkok Stinky.
Review content copyright © 2009 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Alternate Ending
* BD-Live MoLog
* Digital Copy